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The Joy of Argument by Albert Navarra

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Eight Flickering Candle Stubs

by Aaron Wyckoff

            As I lit the eighth candle, I mentally recited a prayer. I thanked the Lord for bringing me here safely, so very far from my home. I thanked Him for not allowing us to perish at sea. I prayed that I might once more find my way home across the vast emptiness of the ocean. And I begged His pardon for hiding my prayers from my shipmates.

            Catholics one and all, they had little tolerance, if not outright hostility, for Jews. The Captain, noted for his devoutness, might abandon me here. And I would gladly stay, were it not for the faces of my family that constantly filled my memory and drew me home. Although the crossing was miserable, since we finally reached shore it has been amazing.

            During the voyage I often heard my shipmates talking of Heaven and Hell, eternal reward and eternal damnation. If such places truly exist, then the time on board must be a sample of the latter, while this new land, these West Indies as the Captain calls them, may well be the former. They are like unto the Garden of Eden at the beginning of the world, and the people here show so much of the innocence of Adam and Eve. Knowing my companions’ nature, I fear they may be too innocent.

            Looking up from the candles, so carefully scavenged and hidden away over the past month, I peered around me into the gloom. The countless flowers, so much larger and more vibrant than those of Spain, had faded into shadowy grey, but their enticing aroma still enveloped me. I saw no sign of my shipmates, and sent another prayer of thanks. On the first night one of them had found me alone in the dark, but fortunately with only the shamash and one other candle lit he had not been suspicious, had not recognized the short length of wood that served as my Menorah for what it was. I had been more cautious since then. On this eighth night, it would be far harder to explain.

            This was my Hanukkah: hidden away from any human contact with eight flickering candle stubs. Seven. One has guttered and gone out. The rest would soon follow. None of the stubs were large to begin with. It was just as well. It would allow me to rejoin the others sooner. As the lights winked out one by one, I once more thought of my wife, my sons and daughters, my friends and community. I saw them sitting before their own Menorahs and ached to be with them. If I get back to them I will never wander again, no matter how good the pay. With another quick look around, I decided to risk praying aloud. For a moment, my lips forgot how to shape the Hebrew words, but they soon remembered.

            As the last candle winked out, I slowly rose and began making my way back through the lush vegetation to the beach where the Santa Maria lay at anchor.


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